-- The Pittsburgh Penguins
probably could host the Philadelphia Flyers
during rush hour at a local high school on a gymnasium floor and still attract a standing-room-only crowd.
But the fact the Keystone State rivals will open the 2010-11 season at state-of-the-art Consol Energy Center here, located directly across the street from their former home, Mellon Arena, certainly adds to the buildup of the NHL's opening night in the Steel City.
"I think it's great to be opening up against Philly, our in-state rival, who came into the League at the same time we did, in 1967," Penguins General Manager Ray Shero
told NHL.com. "We've had some great games against these guys, whether it was playoffs or regular season, and the games are always emotional, intense and physical. We only play them six times a year instead of eight now, but it should be a great game. I think both teams should have good years."
"I think it's great to be opening up against Philly, our in-state rival, who came into the League at the same time we did, in 1967. We've had some great games against these guys, whether it was playoffs or regular season, and the games are always emotional, intense and physical." -- Ray Shero
The 167th straight Penguins sellout will be the first at the new 18,087-seat arena.
"The fans are going to love it," Shero said of the Consol Energy Center. "It's fan-friendly, and coming from Mellon Arena, that's saying something. The sightlines are great, the sound system is tremendous and it's going to be serving the fans and the city of Pittsburgh."
The Penguins hold a 58-44-2 home-ice record against Philadelphia, although the Flyers hold a 132-85-31 series edge since both franchises entered the League for the 1967-68 season. Ironically, Pittsburgh's win total at home against the Flyers, counting playoffs, is 66. That's the same number Mario Lemieux
, the Pens' co-owner, wore for 17 seasons in Pittsburgh.
After winning the Stanley Cup in 2009, the Penguins fell on hard times last spring, dropping a seven-game series to the surprising Montreal Canadiens
in the Eastern Conference Semifinals. Shero reflected on that series and his expectations for the coming season.
"To me you're always thinking win, but give Montreal credit, they had a great playoff," Shero said. "We felt as a team we didn't … we talk about habits and details to your game, how you need goaltending and timely saves. You can't turn the puck over. You need to support your goaltender. You must get timely scoring.
"When we won the Cup two years ago, it seemed someone new stepped up every round," Shero continued. "In the first round, it was (Marc-Andre) Fleury versus Philly. In the second round, it was (Sidney) Crosby against Washington. Then (Evgeni) Malkin was incredible against Carolina (conference final). In the Cup Final, maybe it was (Jordan) Staal and Fleury. But we didn't get that last year -- we had Sid in the first round against Ottawa, and after that didn't have that guy to step up and we missed that."
Shero admits he and coach Dan Bylsma
not only have discussed the future of the team within their new building, but the memories that Mellon Arena will leave behind.
The Penguins played their first game at Mellon -- then called Civic Arena -- on Oct. 11, 1967, a 2-1 loss to the Montreal Canadiens
. The Canadiens also closed the arena following their 5-2 victory against the Pens on May 12 in Game 7 of the conference semifinals. The 1990 NHL All-Star Game was played there on Jan. 21, 1990, and Lemieux was named the game's MVP after scoring 4 goals. The arena also hosted the '97 Entry Draft and games of the '91, '92, 2008 and '09 Stanley Cup Final. The 2008 Final marked the only time the Cup was presented on Mellon Arena ice -- to the Detroit Red Wings
after Game 6.
"I'll miss the Igloo," Shero said. "Dan and I have talked about that a bit. We've had great memories there. It was a great place to watch a game from a fan's standpoint -- it was nice and bright. It might have been old, but at the same time it was unique and you had all those little nuances throughout the building. We've tried to take a little bit of Mellon Arena into the new building."
The Penguins' locker room is an oval-shaped room -- it was rectangular at Mellon -- with a vaulted ceiling similar to the roof of Mellon. It's an upgrade not only in terms of space, but in technology as there's plenty of video access and whiteboards. On the wall above the Hall of Fame mural in the locker room, which features legends Lemieux, Jaromir Jagr
and Ron Francis
, are three traits Shero admits are a foundation of any team -- accountability, work ethic and passion.
"The locker rooms are the best in NHL, I'm sure," Shero said. "Our ownership made this for the players and our fans, and it shows. People who come through are going to be happy and fans that come here for basketball, concerts or hockey will be thrilled.
"You win and lose as a team and we're looking forward to the start of the year in a new building to begin new memories."
Follow Mike Morreale on Twitter at: @mike_morreale